The Tampa Bay Rays' longest winning streak in two years ended in disappointing fashion.
Bouncing back doesn't seem like it will be easy with a matchup in Wednesday's series finale against the Seattle Mariners' Felix Hernandez, who has routinely frustrated the Rays.
Tampa Bay (63-53) appeared on the verge of winning its eighth in a row Tuesday, leading 2-1 after eight innings, but things quickly unraveled in the ninth. Following a leadoff single by Kyle Seager, a throwing error by Carlos Pena on Chone Figgins' bunt put runners on second and third with no outs.
Seager scored on a sacrifice fly, then two batters later Eric Thames lifted the Mariners (54-64) to a 3-2 win with a two-out single.
The Rays, who lost for only the fourth time in 16 games, dropped into a tie with Baltimore for the AL's top wild-card spot. They haven't lost a road series since being swept in Kansas City from June 25-27, but that run could be in jeopardy against Hernandez (10-5, 2.74 ERA).
The right-hander was in good position to win a seventh straight decision Friday against the Los Angeles Angels, but the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner couldn't protect a five-run lead. Hernandez allowed five runs and five hits in seven innings in a game Seattle ended up losing 6-5, but he's still 6-0 with a 1.73 ERA in his last 11 starts.
"It's baseball," the three-time All-Star told the Mariners' official website. "You're going to have those kind of games, so you just move on."
He seems to have a good chance of bouncing back against the Rays.
Hernandez has a 1.74 ERA in his last seven starts in the series, and is 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA in seven career home starts against Tampa Bay with Seattle winning each time. Despite his team's unflattering track record, Rays manager Joe Maddon is trying to stay positive.
"We've had a history of beating good pitchers in close games because we've pitched well," he told the Rays' official website. "And that's the way I look at it."
Evan Longoria has had some success against Hernandez, going 6 for 16 with three walks, but not many of his teammates can make the same claim. Ben Zobrist is 3 for 22 (.136), B.J. Upton is 3 for 28 (.107) with 10 strikeouts and Matt Joyce is 1 for 9.
Upton had a run-scoring triple as part of Tampa Bay's two-run first inning Tuesday, and has 10 RBIs in his last seven games.
In Hernandez's lone start of the season against the Rays at Tropicana Field on April 30, he gave up one run and five hits with nine strikeouts in eight innings of Seattle's 3-2, 12-inning loss.
Scheduled starter Jeremy Hellickson (7-7, 3.52) opposed Hernandez in that game, and allowed a run and six hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings. Like Hernandez, Hellickson is hoping to rebound from a shaky outing and should like his chances based on his history in this series.
Hellickson has a 7.00 ERA in two outings this month after recording a 2.67 ERA in five July starts. The righty permitted three runs and seven hits in five innings of Friday's 12-6 win at Minnesota.
He has been sharp in four career starts against the Mariners, though, going 3-0 with a 0.92 ERA.
Seattle's Dustin Ackley, who had three hits Tuesday, is 2 for 9 lifetime against Hellickson, while Miguel Olivo - batting .318 with three doubles during a five-game hitting streak - is also 2 for 9.